I hate looking at my cable bill every month. Who wouldn’t want to ‘Cut the Cable’. I have always known that the best High Definition Television picture could be had by using an over the air antenna. Where I live, that’s 80 miles to the transmitter sites. So I needed a long-range or fringe antenna. And it had to be up above my home’s roof ridge.
After watching Iyaz Akhtar on This Old Nerd, gave me the tools to make this pipe dream a reality. I mentioned the tuner Iyaz finally settled on, the HDHomeRun, and a friend said I could use his old antenna. I ordered it up and initially installed the antenna in my attic. Ran the RG6 cable to my network and downloaded the software from the Ubuntu Repository.
A word about the HDHomeRun. It takes either an Over The Air (OTA) or QAM unencrypted cable TV signal and converts it to a MPEG video stream. This stream can be easily handled by popular DVR software packages. Most notable are Windows Media Center, MythTV, and VLC. I have to say that the Windows Media Center, with the free channel guide, is the way I am leaning when I build my (HTPC) Home Theater PC. The interface is easy and nice. And it comes standard with either Windows Vista or Windows 7. It has the Partner Approval Factor. But I don’t have a HTPC just yet.
When the HDHomeRun arrived it was easy to install to my home network. basically just plug it in and do a channel scan. It had marginal signal strength and quality with my antenna in the attic. But now I knew it was going to work. Up to the roof top I go. Once it was in the ‘clear’, I was getting all the channels without any trouble at all.
The only real trouble was the user interface. Using the Linux software, it was taking to many clicks just to tune in a channel. There is no way that anyone other than me was going to use this. So I had to write something that took advantage to command line interface that the HDHomeRun provides.
I dove into the manual and a myriad of google searches. I got a crude bash script that allowed me to tune the HDHomeRun. But still, my wife and kids are not going to use a bash script! I needed a make this as simple and easy as could be. I needed a be able to get this down to a mouse click.
I found that you can use zenity to give your bash scripts a GUI. I rewrote the bash script for only the channels I wanted and dropped an icon on the task bar for quick starting. Now VLC is the Swiss Army Knife of media players. It can and will play about anything you throw at it. And if you are crafty enough it can stream it over your local network. But I wanted a cleaner interface. I decided on mplayer.
I am cheap. I use old hardware for my computers. mplayer is going to need all the help it can. I edited the mplayer config file to buffer for eight meg. That did the trick. No added buffering.
Here is the latest version of my script. It still is pretty crude. I am no professional programmer –Not even close. And remember, this is suited for the channels available in my area. If you use this, you will have to edit most of it. I share it with you as a guide, of sorts.
And a screen shot from my netbook, yes my netbook, showing the channel selection interface and a mplayer displaying live free television!
Now this hack puts me one step closer to ditching my cable bill. I haven’t yet. Mostly due to those one or two shows I just can’t get over the internet that are only available on cable. But soon…